Fostering Multilingualism for Inclusion

This year's celebration of International Mother Language Day focused on inclusion, both in the classroom and in society.

Sunday’s celebration of International Mother Language Day, the UN’s annual commemoration honoring linguistic diversity and multilingualism, focused on inclusion, both in the classroom and in society. “Fostering the use of the mother tongue means, precisely, at the same time fostering access to education for all, as well as the dissemination of cultures in all their diversity. The theme of the Day this year, ‘Fostering multilingualism for inclusion in education and society,’ thus encourages us to support multilingualism and the use of mother tongues, both at school and in everyday life,” UNESCO chief Audrey Azoulay said in her message for the Day.

“This is essential, because when 40% of the world’s inhabitants do not have access to education in the language they speak or understand best, it hinders their learning, as well as their access to heritage and cultural expressions,” Azoulay continued, calling linguistic diversity “this priceless heritage of humanity.”

“This year, special attention is being paid to multilingual education from early childhood, so that for children, their mother tongue is always an asset,” she added.

International Mother Language Day is being celebrated as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, which has widened inequalities in education. Azoulay said many of the 1.5 billion students worldwide unable to attend school at the peak of the crisis had no access to distance learning.  

The pandemic is also threatening cultural diversity, as festivals and other events have been cancelled, with the impacts affecting creators and the media.

Azoulay underscored her agency’s commitment to promoting multilingualism, including on the Internet. UNESCO is also the lead agency for the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, which begins next year. She said the International Day, like the Decade, presents the challenge of ensuring the diversity of the world’s languages is preserved as a common heritage. 

“For when a language dies, a way of seeing, feeling and thinking the world disappears, and all of cultural diversity is irretrievably diminished,” she said.

“On this International Day, UNESCO therefore calls for the celebration of the world in all its diversity, and support for multilingualism in everyday life.”

To mark the event, The Smithsonian’s Mother Tongue Film Festival is celebrating cultural and linguistic diversity by showcasing films and filmmakers from around the world, highlighting the crucial role languages play in our daily lives. This year, the festival will be hosted entirely online.

Since 2016, the annual festival has celebrated International Mother Language Day in February. The sixth annual festival will take place via a monthly online screening series from February 21 to May 2021.

Through digital storytelling, the festival amplifies the work of diverse practitioners who explore the power of language to connect the past, present, and future.

The 2021 festival’s animation playlist seeks to empower identification through language. Featuring twelve short animations created by Indigenous filmmakers, or created in collaboration with members of Indigenous communities and arts organizations, this playlist provides a variety of engaging stories sure to inspire those of all ages.

The Mother Tongue Film Festival is a public program of Recovering Voices, a collaboration between Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

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